Visiting An Indigenous Village In The Amazon













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Author: Henry Chen

Place: Amazon Rainforest, Ecuador

Experience Type: Excursion

Date(s): April 21st, 2013


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The village ladies preparing grilled corn and vegetable kebabs for our lunch.

Intro: One of the highlights of our entire Amazonian trip was visiting a local indigenous village where we toured the school, vegetable gardens, and had the opportunity to feast on live worms!

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Our tour group ascending a bridge from our canoe to the indigenous village at the start of our cultural visit.

It had been an early morning wake up, followed by a canoe ride across Lake Heron and a motorized boat trip along the Rio Napo, before we arrived at the indigenous Amazonian village we were going to visit. We docked our boat on the shore of the river and walked across a bridge to meet our hosts – a lovely local lady who was surrounded by a group of adorable children.

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Our local indigenous host, along with our La Selva tour guides Luis and Andres take us on a tour around the school building.

Our host did not speak English, so Luis, our personal tour guide from La Selva Amazon Eco Lodge, translated for us throughout our visit, with the assistance of our other tour guide Andres.

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The school hut was brightly painted with a few chairs, tables, and a large chalkboard.

We followed our guides over to a large open area where many of the homes and schools were located, and entered inside the school to see how learning occurred within the Amazon Rainforest. It was a very cute set-up, with tables, chairs, chalkboards, and other materials laid out – everything was there except the students!

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While there were some classroom supplies, such as textbooks, we wished we had the forethought to bring some as a gift.

Given it was the weekend, we couldn’t expect the children to be there on cue during our visit, but we were surprised to find that almost the entire village was away at the market, busy working in their fields, or out on the Rio Napo. Besides a total of six people that we saw, the village was very quiet.

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The village was situated around a large open air space, with a mixture of traditionally-built huts and more modern buildings.

The lack of villagers didn’t detract from the experience however, and our host took us on a tour of the different parts of the village, explaining each through Luis’ translation. Charlene and I wished we had brought some educational materials to leave for the students, like coloring books and pencils. After this trip, we vowed to bring a few things to give to kids for future visits.

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Sandbags built up to prevent water intrusion into the village during river floods.

After exploring the school, we visited the vegetable gardens where the villagers grew all of their food. Our host showed us some of the produce they were growing in the soil, pulling one vegetable right up from its roots to display it before us.

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An elevated water tower stands adjacent to the communal village restrooms.

Even though there wasn’t really anyone around and not many activities to do, we were still having a lot of fun, and it was a treat to be able to walk around the village and get a glimpse into the indigenous Amazonian way of life.

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One of many scrawny-looking dogs that were begging for food around the village.

As we wandered around the village we also noticed there were quite a few dogs loitering around and we had been warned not to pet them incase they had bugs or fleas. We really love our four-legged friends, and it was sad to see them begging for food and looking so scrawny and malnourished.

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The open-air kitchen hut where our indigenous lunch was lovingly prepared by the village women.

We then entered inside one of the huts for an early lunch, eating a meal exactly as the indigenous people did here each day which was quite an experience! When we arrived at the hut, we all removed our boots at the entrance, leaving them on the steps, and headed inside to see some of the local family cooking our feast.

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Bunches of plantain in one corner of the kitchen – this staple crop is often grilled or fried as a source of carbohydrates.

Inside the hut they had a stove with charcoal, fire, some bananas, pans and pottery, and we watched as our hosts grilled some and other vegetables for our lunch – it smelled pretty good!

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Our home-cooked indigenous lunch was beautifully presented along banana leaves.

Before the food was served, we all sat around a circle on the floor of the hut and there was a giant leaf that served as a mat on the wooden floor where the food was placed. In addition to some vegetable kebabs, one of the dishes was sticky rice wrapped inside a leaf, a dish that is similar to what we eat in my own culture.

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Charlene making friends with the local children during our indigenous village visit in the Amazon Rainforest.

I am part Burmese and part Chinese, born in Burma in Southeast Asia, and sticky rice mixed with a few other ingredients and wrapped inside a leaf is a common dish where I am from.

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Live worms that are considered a local delicacy left untouched by our tour group!

The highlight of our experience in the village (and one we will never forget) was seeing a bowl full of live, large worms that are considered a local delicacy! The worm was probably about an inch wide and three to four inches long (yup, that big! ), and although the villagers asked us if we would like a taste, we all declined. I think I may have eaten it if someone paid or dared me to…but that is still a big “may”! The villagers also fried the worms, and we did (politely) eat the fried version they served for us.

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Charlene’s first taste of freshly cooked, Amazonian worm, which is considered a local delicacy.

Like many unusual “meats”, it tasted like chicken, but chewier. I remember Charlene being very hesitant about eating it, but finally she took a bite! It wasn’t exactly the gourmet cuisine we were being served at La Selva Amazon Eco Lodge, but it was tasty in its own way, and we certainly appreciated the local ladies preparing this authentic and wonderful Amazonian culinary experience for us!

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A young indigenous girl plays cheekily with a pair of rubber boots during our cultural village visit.

During this village visit, I really felt more like a guest than a tourist. Not just being able to experience the villagers’ way of life and be invited into their homes, but it was nice not being bombarded by things to buy or feel like we were entering into a “tourist trap”. It felt really genuine, and sometimes that is hard to find when traveling.

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Looking across the indigenous Amazonian village from inside one of the traditional huts.

It was amazing just to be invited to walk around their kitchens, play with their friendly and adorable kids, and be a part of their lives, even if it was only for a few hours. I was able to take plenty of photos of the little ones and, as always, I wished I had a portable printer to give them a copy. Hopefully, one day Charlene and I can go back to the Amazon Rainforest, specifically this village, and see these folks again!

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One of La Selva’s workers Henry tying up our canoe on the edge of Lake Heron.

Our visit to the indigenous Amazonian village was one of the highlights of our entire trip to Ecuador, and the only excursion where we really encountered locals. No one lives in the Galapagos Islands, and in Quito, Ecuador’s capital, we were within a completely different, urban environment. In the rainforest, however, we experienced a cultural interaction that was both eye-opening and sincere.


1: Bring a little trinket or school supplies with you if you know that you’ll be visiting a local village. Your kindness will go a long way.

2: Embrace the customs and ways of living of each indigenous village you visit (even if it means getting out of your comfort zone). You might surprise yourself and be a better person for it!

3: Ask lots of questions and learn from your guide about each local group you visit.



La Selva Amazon Eco Lodge

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Boat Ride Along The Rio Napo

La Selva Amazon Eco Lodge Observation Tower